Monday, August 29, 2022

Review of "SOL- Still Our Lions"

While the summer is winding down and life is getting busier with school resuming and vacations ending, the time for pleasure reading is going down as well.  This book on one of the more downtrodden NFL franchises, the Detroit Lions, is a good read even if one is not a Lions fan.  Here is my review of "SOL- Still Our Lions." 

Title/Author: “SOL – Still Our Lions: A Fan’s History of the Detroit Lions and the City They Represent” by Gary Evens

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: The Detroit Lions have been one of the more unsuccessful teams in professional sports for over 60 years.  Since winning their last championship in 1957, they have had several outstanding players, some of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  These include instantly recognizable names from fans of their eras, such as Barry Sanders, Lem Barney and Calvin Johnson (although Johnson is not eligible yet for the Hall of Fame, it is widely believed he will easily obtain the votes when he is).  Yet, for all these individual achievements the team has won only one postseason game in the Super Bowl era and will disappoint their loyal fans.

In an interesting comparison of this team and the corresponding history of the city they represent, author Gary Evans gives the reader a very interesting and at times entertaining look at both the city of Detroit and the football team that, much like the population, left for the suburbs and is now back looking for a renaissance. No matter which topic Evans is addressing, he writes about it from both a position of knowledge and reverence as well.

The entire history of the Lions franchise is covered, starting when they left Portsmouth, Ohio in the early days of the NFL to the current team through the start of the 2021 season.  There are just as many low points as bright spots discussed by Evans and through it all, it is impressive to see how much he and other Detroit fans are still dedicated to the team.  He includes many quotes from fans of all walks of life who share the same love of the team.  Many are poignant, some are quite funny, but all show the dedication that these people have for a team that may continue to provide frustration but still is considered to be “their” Lions.  

Link: SOL Still Our Lions: A Fan's History of the Detroit Lions and the City They Represent: Evans, Gary J: 9781956048063: Books

Friday, August 19, 2022

Review of "Passion Plays"

I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book, mainly because in everyday conversation many of us, including myself, will say they follow a player or team "religiously."  So, with this book on the connection between religion and team sports, I was naturally curious.  It turned out to be a decent read.  Here is my review of "Passion Plays."


Title/Author: “Passion Plays:  How Religion Shaped Sports in North America” by Randall Balmer

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Starting with the shortening of the word “fanatics” to “fans”, there are many parallels between the world of sports and the world of religion.  Historian Randal Balmer illustrates those commonalities in the four major team sports in North America in this short and enjoyable book.

Balmer describes of how social changes of various themes are related to the origins of the four sports and in many cases, how some of them are still applicable to this day.  He likens the origins of baseball to the Industrial Revolution, war proliferation starting with the Civil War to the creation of American football, Canadian nationalism for ice hockey and urbanization for basketball as there was a lack of sporting opportunity between football and baseball seasons.  The origins of the four sports are all well documented here.  Even those readers who have researched those origins in one or more of the sports will pick up on something new.

Just about any religious connection with the sports that readers may have heard from watching games, reading about the games in the media or listening to sports talk will be found here.  It was sports talk radio that gave Balmer the inspiration for this book.  One of the cleverer descriptions of these connections is the nickname given to long-time sports talk host Mike Francesa in New York City – who is known as the “pope” of sports talk radio.  Another example is how many sports venues are considered shrines, temples, churches, or similar places of worship.  Among those listed by Balmer are Fenway Park (baseball), Lambeau Field (football) and the Montreal Forum (hockey). For the latter, the march from the Forum to the new Molson Centre (now Bell Centre) for the Montreal Canadiens by players and fans down St. Catherine Street felt like a pilgrimage.

That is the image that Balmer seems to want to bring to the reader – how team sports in North America will make followers have the same feelings as one who is devout in their religion, no matter what faith they may be.  It should be noted that these comparisons are limited to those of Christian symbols – many different faiths are mentioned in the book.  Also, for each sport, Balmer includes the struggle by non-white players for equality on the playing field and in other aspects. 

No matter which sports a reader follows of those four, they will find something they will enjoy in this book.  It is a quick enjoyable read that will shed some different light on one’s fandom for their favorite games or teams.

I wish to thank University of North Carolina Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Link: Passion Plays: How Religion Shaped Sports in North America (A Ferris and Ferris Book): Balmer, Randall: 9781469670065: Books




Thursday, August 18, 2022

Review of "Winning Golf"

Normally, I am not one to read books on golf tips as I find them difficult to practice correctly and spend the proper amount of time on them.  Nonetheless, I found this book on the mental aspect of the game intriguing and while it had the same drawbacks as I usually find in most instructional books, this one had some extra parts that made for good reading.  Here is my review of "Winning Golf."

Title/Author: “Winning Golf: The Mental Game” by Dr. Saul Miller

Rating:  3 of 5 stars (good)

Review: Ask just about any golfer at any level and they will say that the mental aspect of the game is just as challenging, if not more so, than the physical and mechanical parts.  To address this, Dr. Saul Miller, who has provided mental coaching to athletes in many sports, wrote this book to help golfers improve their mental game.

Dr. Miller’s tips start with a simple step – proper breathing.  The deep breaths in and out that are often recommended for anyone, athlete or not, to slow down and relax are what are recommended for a golfer here.  The lesson is to do this before every shot.  From there, Dr. Miller expounds on relaxing, lowering anxiety, stopping negative self-talk or thoughts and to always picture the perfect shot.  Goal setting is also an important part of this book and these steps are useful for the player who is committed to spending a great deal of time working on his or her game.  Especially for those in either competitive settings or those whose long-range golf goals include accomplishments such as being awarded a scholarship or making the professional tour. 

While this did not seem to be a good source of lessons for the casual or part-time golfer, this still has some useful tips even if the reader does not have those long-range goals or a lot of time to spend working their game.  The book also is not completely about mental skills or lessons.  While the discussions were about what each golfer was thinking about, my favorite section of the book was when Dr. Miller interviewed each professional golfer who has shot a round of 59 or lower.  What these golfers were thinking during their historic rounds made for great reading. 

I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Link: Winning Golf: The Mental Game (Creating the Focus, Feeling, and Confidence to Play Consistently Well) eBook : Miller, Saul L.: Kindle Store

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Review of "Red Barber"

Train rides to the ballpark, in this case Citi Field, often result in plenty of reading time for baseball books.  That was the case for this one as I finally had the time needed to fully immerse myself in the book as it requires careful reading but is worth the time to do so.  Here is my review of "Red Barber"

Title/Author: “Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of a Broadcast Legend” by Judith Hiltner and James Walker

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  In the 1940’s and 1950’s when baseball was at the height of its popularity in New York City, people associated with the city’s three teams were celebrated as much as anyone else.  Red Barber, who was the play-by-play commentator for the Brooklyn Dodgers through a good portion of this “Golden Age” of New York baseball, was one of those people. He not only had a good career in broadcasting, but he also had an interesting life outside baseball and his complete biography has been written by Judith Hiltner and James Walker.

No matter what part of Barber’s life interests a reader, painstaking detail went into writing about what shaped Barber into the person that he would become during that time. It starts with his upbringing in the southern United States.  Born in Columbus, Mississippi and later moving to Sanford, Florida, Barber saw how Black people were held to different standards than white people and it would later shape his professional career when Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in modern Major League Baseball. 

From his upbringing, the book shifts to his broadcasting career and the values that he brought to the broadcasting booth.  Barber always felt that he was more of a reporter whose objective was to tell the listeners what was happening on the field more than anything else. This was his style whether he was doing work for the Cincinnati Reds, his first job with a Major League Club, the Dodgers, or later for the New York Yankees.  His ending with the latter two teams were both painful and he was not happy with the ownership teams at the time of his departure. 

Through it all, the book reads very well as the reader will learn much about Barber the broadcaster.  One of the better sections on this time in his life was how his catchphrase “sitting in the catbird seat.”  The book also talks about what he did to promote not only baseball, but other worthy endeavors.  Blood donation during World War II was a passionate cause for Barber – just one of many examples of how the authors brought the complete picture of Barber into view for readers.

This is also true for Barber’s life outside of baseball, whether his personal life or his other endeavors.  The latter included shows on National Public Radio (NPR) and writing books, most notably on the thrilling 1947 World Series.  The former takes a very detailed look at not only his long marriage to his wife Lylah, but also how he and Lylah reacted when their only child, Sarah, came out as gay.  Again, just two examples of the painstaking detail and complete research that the authors of this book did to give the reader one of the best looks into the life of one of the most legendary baseball broadcasters.

Barber’s full name was Walter Lanier Barber and the start of the prologue of the book is a great way to summarize the scope of the book, this review and Red’s life.  There are “three consistent threads of Barber’s personality with his name:  Walter, the ambitious achiever; Lanier, the humanist; and Red, the lively performer.”

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Links:  Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of a Broadcasting Legend: Hiltner, Judith R., Walker, James R.: 9781496222855: Books

Monday, August 8, 2022

Review of "Swerve or Die"

 Having followed NASCAR for the better part of 30 years and having become even more interested the last few, I was very excited to learn that Kyle Petty was publishing a book.  To read about the sport from one of the most successful racing families was something to look forward to, and the book did not disappoint.  Here is my review of "Swerve or Die"

Title/Author: “Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing” by Kyle Petty and Ellis Henican

Rating:  5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: The family of Petty is one of the most famous families in auto racing.  Lee Petty won the first sanctioned NASCAR race and his son Richard has the most wins at the highest level of NASCAR competition (Cup races) at 200.  Richard’s son Kyle won Cup races as well, and grandson Adam, who won his first ARCA race, was destined for success as well.  The stories of this legendary race family – the good, the bad, the funny and the tragic – are told in this excellent memoir by Kyle Petty, written with Ellis Henican.

It’s hard to unpack where to begin when describing this book because while it follows the family story from Kyle’s viewpoint in chronological order, it doesn’t really fit into one nice flow as Kyle goes from topic to topic – from family life to driving on the famous Daytona track as a teenager to passing down the love of racing to his sons.  Changing the focus of a particular passage fits the personality of Kyle because while he was born into a racing family, he had many other interests and talents that he has used to his benefit for his life outside racing.

Kyle talks about his musical talents that has had him performing on stage as an opening act for some of the biggest names in country music.  He mentions that even though he was disappointed that his driving career ended because the team (not Petty Enterprises, the team that both he and his father not only drove for, but also ran as the CEO – and both eventually stepped down from that spot) determined that he would not drive any longer, not his decision.  He credits his interest in music and television broadcasting as his way of staying connected with the sport.  Currently, he is an analyst for NBC’s coverage of NASCAR and hosts other talk shows and podcasts on racing.

As one might expect, he expressed his grief over the lost of his son when Adam Petty was killed in a practice run at New Hampshire Speedway in 2000.  Adam was only 19, but not only was he focused on his driving career, he wanted to help others. It led to another project that kept Kyle from becoming another athlete who wonders what to do when they no longer are competing.  A camp for children with severe medical conditions, Victory Junction, was started in Adam’s memory and is still a very popular camp where these children can just have fun for a week.

Kyle writes from a knowledgeable viewpoint, no matter what the racing topic would be.  He worked on cars – he wrote about the detail his father taught him while doing that.  He drove in races – he writes about his struggles behind the wheel as well as his victories.  He ran a racing organization, as mentioned above.  He is a successful broadcaster – he writes about the issues he sees and the people he talks to every week. He also writes about family – from his parents and grandparents to his children and his spouses (been married twice).  Just about anything one would want to know about NASCAR and Kyle Petty will be found here.  It is a great read for race fans and fans of the Petty family. 

I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Link: Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing: Petty, Kyle, Henican, Ellis: 9781250277817: Books

Friday, August 5, 2022

Review of "Own the Arena"

Admittedly, I had never heard of Katrina Adams when I saw this book offered on NetGalley and then I kept it buried in my TBR pile (unintentionally, of course).  Glad I finally pulled it out and read it, thanks to a couple of Goodreads challenges.  Here is my review of "Own the Arena."


Title/Author: “Own the Arena: Match Points for Winning, From the Blacktop to the Boardroom” by Katrina M. Adams

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: In tennis, the U.S. Open is not only one of the four Grand Slam events, but it has also been compared to the Super Bowl in terms of its power to attract fans, celebrities, top players and generate money.  Katrina Adams provides readers of this book a first-hand look at not only the action on the court, but an inside look at what goes into putting on an event like the U.S. Open, well beyond the two weeks of tennis.

Adams draws on her experience as a college and professional player and later her term as President of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to not only showcase the U.S. Open but also provide readers with glimpses into her life, both personally and professionally.  Her success in both areas was due to many factors and some of those she shares with readers in such a way that no matter one’s profession and athletic interests, if any, they can be used to achieve one’s goals.

Being the first Black woman to hold the position, Adams faced many challenges as one might expect.  She speaks eloquently and passionately about overcoming racism and sexism in the sport and does so without bitterness.  Indeed, she talks glowingly about those who helped her along the way and shared the same passion.  One excellent example is Billie Jean King, who she credits as being a pioneer in brining many issues to the forefront for women’s tennis such as equal pay and facilities.  Her dialogue on these social issues is never condemning – she does include white men when she talks about diversity and welcoming all views – and a reader will come away with a new sense of awareness for these matters.

As for the tennis, her career as a player is covered adequately, but her career in the management of the USTA is much better.  It may be due to recency, or maybe the accomplishments, but for both topics, a reader will learn much about Adams and her work at the USTA and U.S. Open.  An excellent story, for just one of many examples, is how her culinary team makes sure that there is appropriate food for all tastes and cultures of VIPs who visit those suites during the tourney.  One particular guest whose taste for Southern food resulted in collard greens and fried chicken made for a very touching story. 

Accounts like this are what make this book an enjoyable read for any tennis fan, whether or not they are familiar with Adams’ career either as a player or as an executive. The tips are all applicable to her work in both areas and will be for a reader as well.  

I wish to thank Amistad for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 




Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Review of "My Greatest Save"

While most will associate the 1999 Women's World Cup with the famous picture of Brandi Chastain, when I saw this book was offered for review, I picked it up right away as I remembered that Briana Scurry played just as big a role in that historic victory over China as Chastain did.  This is a very good sports memoir that many would enjoy reading.  Here is my review of "My Greatest Save."

Title/Author: “My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goaltender” by Briana Scurry with Wayne Coffey

Rating:  4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: When the United States National Women’s Soccer Team (USNWST) won the 1999 World Cup, most remember the famous reaction by Brandi Chastain who, after she scored the winning goal in a penalty kick shootout, she ripped off her jersey in the celebration.  What is not remembered as much is how the goalkeeper for the team, Briana Scurry, made an incredible save on one of the kicks from China that made Chastain’s winning moment possible.  Scurry’s career was very successful, and she discusses that along with her personal life in this easy-to-read memoir written with Wayne Coffey.

I use the term “easy-to-read” because aside from possibly a few soccer terms, this is written in simple, conversational language. There is plenty of humor in snippets that may sound like “dad jokes.” No matter the topic, even during her darkest time when she had thoughts of suicide, Scurry writes with a relaxed and mostly even keeled mindset.  It seemed amazing that she could discuss thoughts about jumping off a bridge into rushing water with the same process as she did about saves made during crucial international matches.

She also writes about social issues that one might expect, given that she is a high-profile Black lesbian athlete, but she does not step into any activism or strongly worded statements.  If she has very strong beliefs, they were not present in the book.  The best example is when she realized that she was gay with this statement: “…I was awakening to the reality that I was a lesbian and was totally at peace with it.  There was no reason for me to issue some sort of declaration and have it notarized and counter signed.”  She also has similar thoughts on racism as being Black, she experienced it and expressed her displeasure but stopped short of calling for strong measures.

The best parts of the book, as one might expect, is her memories of some of the better moments of her soccer career, such as the aforementioned 1999 World Cup along with two gold medals in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics.  Goalkeepers have their own sets of training, conditioning, drills and camaraderie – and Scurry brings all of those to the reader with great recollections of game action, of interactions with teammates and opponents and the joys and sorrows of important wins and losses. 

While the title might make a reader expect a book with very dramatic passages, this book really doesn’t have those – instead, a reader will go on a journey into the world of a goalkeeper who left her mark in international and American soccer and wants to share it all with the readers.

I wish to thank Abrams Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Link: My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper: 9781419757679: Scurry, Briana, Coffey, Wayne, Roberts, Robin: Books